For your staff, the trick to merger is: don't look back

Transparency and support for staff are key to mergers, writes Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q: We're merging with a similar charity later this year - what should our priorities be?

Well done for getting this far. No doubt the process has so far been a mixture of pain and pleasure. If trustees, management and staff are feeling energised by the new world, that's one thing - but if people are harbouring resentment and feel threatened by uncertainty, the challenge is somewhat greater.

In the second of two columns about mergers, let's start with trustees. Most mergers are used as a good opportunity to review the governance structure of an organisation in a way that is more difficult with long-established boards.

I hope the chair will already be carrying out a skills analysis of the existing trustees to see where there are gaps or overlaps. When trustees have given their time for a number of years, it can seem insulting to be asked to go through a recruitment process. But it is vital to have a clear and open process to ensure you have the most appropriate people for the new entity.

I would also suggest that, if skills allow, there should be a mix of trustees from each of the merged charities and some new recruits. There are a number of reasons for this: first, some corporate memory can be helpful; second, it helps staff to see that it is a true merger, not a takeover; and, third, it enables the new board to work as one, rather than as two old boards with potentially clashing working styles.

The next point relates to staff. Again, an open and transparent recruitment process is vital for getting the best people for the positions, and also for avoiding any concerns about shoo-ins. Once the team has been confirmed, don't underestimate the amount of time it will take for everyone to mesh together and discard their old charity personas.

There are some simple tactical tools you can employ to smooth over the merger, such as choosing completely new names for departments, meetings or processes. Perhaps the management team could be shortened to MT instead of DMT or SMT; and perhaps it could meet at 2pm on the first Monday of the month rather than 10am on Wednesdays, and in a different venue or meeting room from either of the previous teams.

Finally, I am not usually an advocate of the classic team building awaydays - however, this is one of the situations where they really can be useful. If small groups of people know each other well but teams are in the early stages of development, it is natural for people to fall back on their old working relationships by making in-jokes or referring to things that happened in the past as a way to maintain an element of comfort in that new group.

Finally, be firm with anyone who harks back to "the good old days". The future is bright.

Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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